You Shelved It…Where?

Pop quiz, hotshot. (Nah, there are no buses or bombs involved.)

You’ve heard terrific things about this one urban fantasy novel that came out a few months ago. It supposedly has everything you like — supernatural creatures, tension, an engrossing plot, humor, action, characters you can root for (or against). So you go to your local bookstore — a Borders, maybe, or a B&N, because perhaps your local indie doesn’t carry a lot of science fiction or fantasy — and you scan the SF/F section. Nothing. You check out the new fiction tables and end caps. Not there, either. They probably sold out, if the book was as good as you’ve heard. Gamely, you ask one of the booksellers if the novel is in stock. A quick check of the computer reveals that yes, they’ve got three copies left…in the romance section.

You blink. Romance?

Yeah, says the cheerful bookseller. Romance.

What do you do?

A) I take a deep breath, stride into the romance section without making eye contact with anyone, and grab the book as fast as I can and pray the entire time that no one I know is in the store.

B) I go get the book; it was probably just mis-shelved.

C) I go home and buy it on Amazon.

D) I leave the bookstore without the book; ain’t no way I’m reading something labeled “romance.”

If you picked “D,” chances are you’re missing out on some terrific reading.

A lot of what’s called “paranormal romance” really is urban fantasy — granted, with an emphasis on the relationship between the hero and the heroine, and probably at least one nookie scene that could be anywhere from fade-to-black to Anita Blake in heat. But many of these books also have world building that’s positively enchanting, and plots that keep you turning the pages. Meljean Brook’s THE GUARDIANS series is a prime example, as is Colleen Gleason’s THE GARDELLA VAMPIRE CHRONICLES. Haven’t heard of them? Go on, I dare you to get a copy of DEMON ANGEL or THE REST FALLS AWAY from the library.

The thing about having the word “romance” on the spine of a book is that most likely, there’s going to be a “happily ever after” ending, in which the hero and heroine wind up together — at least, temporarily. And, because it’s also got “paranormal” on the spine (code for “supernatural”), chances are the hero and heroine are going to defeat the Big Bad Evil — again, temporarily. How the hero and heroine get there is what makes it worth the read.

So…are you bold enough to venture into the realm of covers with scantily clad people and pick up a book that has relationships as well as relics, sex as well as sorcery?

Try it. You might like it. Heck, even Harry Dresden has sex once in a while.

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  1. 1. lyda morehouse

    I used to be embarrassed to go to the romance section, but it’s really changed in the last few years. The cheesy bodice ripping covers are mostly a thing of the past.

    Plus, I think the entire industry is kind of having a kind of renaissance, which is why more and more of your favorite book are being found there.

    I say go there with pride!

  2. 2. Steve Buchheit

    I’ve been reading and acquiring Graham Joyce lately. He’s all over the damn store. I haven’t had to go into romance to find him, yet.

    And some of my best friends are romance writers. So there’s no problem with picking it up. In fact, having taken out one of LK Hamilton’s books from the library and Christopher Moore’s You Suck, I got a questionable look and smile about the later and not even an eyelid flutter on the former.

    I guess, for me, I’d go almost into any section of a bookstore without hesitation. Although I have a “fear of heights” kind of affliction with the Self-help/Sexuality section, but that’s from an overwhelming urge to pick up a copy of the Joy of Sex and ask out loud “I wonder if what we did last weekend is in.. yep, there it is.” So I avoid that section.

  3. 3. Jackie Kessler

    I think the only part of a bookstore that really scares me is the children’s section. Have you SEEN all of those Dora the Explorer books? And, gasp, Go, Diego, Go! I’m telling you, that’s the stuff of nightmares.

  4. 4. Jim C. Hines

    The Dora/Diego books aren’t really any worse than a lot of the other stuff for that age group. They’re not my favorites, but it’s not like they keep me awake at night muttering, “Swiper no swiping … Swiper no swiping … Swiper get the $%#@% out of my house before I take a @#$%^ing axe to your @#$-@#$%^ing skull!”

    At least, not anymore :-)

  5. 5. Lynne Thomas

    I’m one of those people that gets avoided in the romance section, who has used paranormal romance to ease my way into SF. I’m the person that feels like I’m being stared at as I wander through the *SF* section trying to figure out what to read next, and whether I’m really going to like it, and feeling like a total poser while I’m there.

    Of course, when I attended my first SF reading group meeting at my local public library, it took less than ONE MINUTE for someone in the group to snort and make a snide comment about romance. I kid you not. And I’d put money down that said person has NEVER read a romance novel. Especially not one of the romances put out in the past, say, 15 years. The misconception that all romance is anti-feminist bodice ripper heaving-breasts kind of stuff for unintelligent readers is right up there with the misconception that all SF is just about robots and rocketships, with much more concern about the technology than characterization, aimed only at engineers.

    As with every genre, there’s good stuff and craptastic stuff out there. It’s just a matter of being able to discern between the two, and that takes practice, and occasional guidance from the person standing comfortably in the section. They may just be trying to see what *you’re* buying, because they’re curious to see if they might like it too, you know…

    Gee, can you tell that I’ve had this rant before? :-)

    And Dora is starting to make my eyes bleed from overexposure. I’ll take Backyardigans anyday. Right now, we’re trying to convert our 5-year-old into a Muppets fan, which warms my heart.

    Lynne
    who just finished Curse of Chalion and moved right on to Jayne Castle’s Silver Master…to be followed by probably some Patrick Rothfuss…

  6. 6. C.E. Petit

    Part of the problem with this whole scenario is having separate sections in bookstores. What’s wrong with “Fiction”?

    All seriousness aside, just as science fiction suffers from the perception that it’s about evil scientists and bug-eyed monsters, and fantasy suffers from the perception that it’s all rewritten variations of LOTR, and horror suffers from the perception that it’s all about creeping evil zombies (or maybe just Karl Rove) eating the brains of everyone around the protagonist, romance suffers from the perception that it’s about rich men and women ripping each others’ clothes off. Or just about sentences as long as that one.

    Of course, there is some truth to all of these perceptions; every year, among the top ten sellers in each category for that year one will find at least three or four that arguably fit the stereotypes. Whether this is a self-fulfilling prophecy because that’s available from the publishers, or something else, is beside the point.

    As part of my job, I force myself to read bestsellers in categories I don’t ordinarily read. And trust me — there’s plenty of stereotypical (bad) Romance making the bestseller lists. It doesn’t matter whether it’s by N___ R___ (or JD R___), or D____ S____, or any of the other recognized megasellers in Romance: the brand is enough to ensure high sales. In management and marketing, one has Gresham’s Law; in fiction, one has Grisham’s Law (bad fiction will force good fiction into marketing disfavor).

  7. 7. Suzette

    I admit, I love romance novels and so dont care about going to that particular section in a bookstore. What would be lovely though is if they actually had a PARANORMAL Romance section so that I dont have to go through all the regular romance, ie: contemporary, historical, western romace, ect.

    My genre of choice IS paranormal romace. In my opinion that includes, ghost, vamps, time-travel, succubus, witches, and some sci-fi(Bianca D’ Arc), and urban fantasy. Shoot, if the book stores seprated those from you regular romance, I would be a happy camper since I could find those authors I already read quickly and find authors I have missed out on because of the location of a book.

  8. 8. David Louis Edelman

    I think someone should really try opening a bookstore that has no classification system whatsoever — everything in the damn store is alphabetized according to author’s last name. It would make finding books a cinch, and might make for some interesting juxtapositions. Anybody ever heard of a bookstore that’s tried that?

  9. 9. Kelly McCullough

    David, http://commongoodbooks.com/ in St. Paul owned by Garrison Keilor. The fiction at least is arranged as you suggest in one big wall o’ books. Since non-fiction and quasi-fiction can have much more complex authorship, those are stocked elsewhere.

  10. 10. Michael M Jones

    When I go to the bookstore, or at least to the local B&N, my routine is always:
    1) Check out romance section for new releases. Look for paranormal romances, romantic comedies, and interesting Regencies. I won’t tell you which I read and which my wife reads. :>

    2) Check out SF/Fantasy section for new releases.

    3) Check out YA section for new releases.

    I have to hit all three sections to make sure I keep up to date on promising books that fit my tastes… :> And I don’t care who sees me in the romance section. I’m secure in my literary tastes. :>

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